Lynx force decisive Game 5 with 80-69 win over Sparks

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike goes for the steal as Lynx guard Renee Montgomery loses control of the ball in the first half.

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike goes for the steal as Lynx guard Renee Montgomery loses control of the ball in the first half.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Staples Center party was scrubbed. The champagne in the home team dressing quarters stayed on ice.

Maybe the Sparks can find solace in needing to circle back east for Game 5 of the WNBA Finals after an 80-69 loss Sunday. They’ve been there, done that, having gone through the same pattern in their championship series with Minnesota a year ago: win and loss on the road, win and loss at home, then a conclusive victory on the Lynx’s court.

They should have known that, after inducting a player named Odyssey into the lineup for the title defense, their season would again become an . . . odyssey.

The Sparks’ regular rotation from last season is the same aside from Odyssey Sims, who joined the team via trade when Kristi Toliver departed through free agency.

Upon arrival, Sims was quite the unfinished product. By her admission, faults included improper help-side defense, brief moping after turnovers and an aversion to pursuing loose balls.


Not until Essence Carson was injured more than halfway through the schedule did Sims crack the lineup. Her productivity increased. Weak areas showed marked improvement partly through the example and counsel of teammates.

“Just have poise,” the point guard said Sunday, summing up the advice.

Her poise was tested less than two minutes into the game when Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen cocked her arm and raked Sims across the upper body on a layup. Sims landed on her left shoulder and, after laying sprawled on the court, was able to shoot free throws on a flagrant foul call.

Then Sims appeared to fade into the background, unable to score or coax baskets out of her mates. The Sparks managed a mere 44 points through three quarters, with Sims accounting for eight, as Minnesota, ahead by 17, seemed beyond getting caught.

Yet, with leads of 26, 20 and 13 points having evaporated in previous games, the Sparks could not be written off. It was Sims who nearly halved the deficit on two three-point baskets sandwiched around a pull-up mid-range jump shot to open the fourth period.

The margin was nine points when she unleashed another three-point shot that, if accurate, would have sent a full-throated crowd over the edge.

But the ball kicked off the rim and Minnesota maintained a safe distance from the Sparks after that.

Sims was testy afterward, refusing to discuss any aspect of the game in which she registered a team-high 18 points.

“Right now, I just want to concentrate on getting better,” she said.

About the hard foul: “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Most other players found little patience addressing the theory that the experience of winning Game 5 in Minneapolis last year might be reassuring.

“That’s not really a thought for me,” said Nneka Ogwumike, who scored 17 points while sporting an adhesive bandage under her right eye to protect five stitches required after Game 3.

“I’m tired of that question,” she said. “It’s a different year.”

Said Candace Parker: “I don’t believe in all that stuff.”

Alana Beard bought somewhat into the notion that the memory could be converted into some degree of confidence.

“Honestly, we wanted to win it here,” she said. “But it’s cool to know that we can, and have, done that.”

Similarly, the Lynx could draw Sunday on the knowledge that they extended the 2016 series with a victory at Staples.

“They have this fire in their belly that is second to none,” Cheryl Reeve said of her team, which illustrated the coach’s point with a nearly two-to-one advantage Sunday in rebounds.

Reeve is all too aware of the repeated Finals sequence through four games, having brought it up without prompting. She said the Lynx would be mindful of “how eerily similar things have gone” but prefers to dismiss the identical pattern as a coincidence.

The Sparks, their jubilance deferred, have until Wednesday’s tipoff to shake off their disappointment.

Sims, the lone starter with no first-hand recollection of the odyssey last season, said with obvious disgust, “Bottom line, we’ve gotta play better.”